Driving under the influence

Driving under the influence, sometimes called driving while intoxicated, is one of the most complicated and dense articles of the Virginia criminal and traffic code - longer and more complicated than murder and other much more seemingly serious offenses.

Virginia code 18.2-266 is where the law on DUI begins, but the entirety of Chapter 7, Article 2 refers to DUI charges. The many other statutes in the Article serve to describe procedures in detail and increase punishments in some circumstances.

Field tests? Blood Test? Refusal?

From the moment you are stopped by the police and suspected of driving under the influence, the officer is gathering evidence to convict you at trial. They are observing your eyes, your speech, your breath, and your coordination. They'll often ask you to perform field sobriety tests, such as the walk and turn, the alphabet test, one-legged stand, and others. Your performance on these tests give police officers further evidence to convict you at trial. You may also be offered a preliminary breath test (the device offered on the side of the road). You always have the right to remain silent. You also have the right to refuse field sobriety tests, and the preliminary breath test. You should never speak with the police or perform field tests without first speaking with a lawyer.

By operating a vehicle on the roads in Virginia, you are agreeing that if you are arrested for driving under the influence, you will then submit to a breath or blood test to determine the concentration of the substance or substances in your body. This is different than the preliminary breath test, as failure to submit to a breath test may result an an additional civil charge for refusing to submit. This is known as the "implied consent" law.

The prosecutor, police, and sometimes medical professionals have very specific procedures that must be followed if they are going to successfully prosecute you for driving under the influence. An experienced defense attorney can assure that you are not being illegally prosecuted for driving under the influence.

"It's just a first offense..."

Even a first offense for driving under the influence carries heavy penalties, which the General Assembly is always changing - and always making harsher. A first offense for driving under the influence is a class one misdemeanor, the highest classification of misdemeanor offense in Virginia.

A conviction for a first DUI is punishable by up to 12 months in jail and a $2,500 fine. Additionally your driver's license will be suspended for a minimum of 12 months, and you will have to install an Ignition Interlock device on your car and pay those installation and maintenance fees.

If you are charged with a second offense, you face mandatory time in jail, and higher mandatory fines. A third offense or higher is a felony - now punishable by up to five years in prison, indefinite revocation of your driver's license, and even higher mandatory jail time and fines. Also, you face the loss of rights associated with every felony conviction, which includes losing your right to vote, your right to purchase and possess a firearm, and more.

No one plans to be charged with a second or third DUI - but no one plans to be charged with a first DUI either. Even if you are "only" charged with a first, trust an experienced DUI attorney to think about your future and minimize the short term and long term damage to your life. Even if you think you're guilty and there's nothing than can be done, the right attorney can often times find defenses you didn't know were available.